Learning can be fun

Arthur Shelley and Patrick Lambe are arranging to facilitate some “fun exercises to encourage Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing” for the actKM Conference in October, and have asked for some input.

Here’s one that I have used in a different context, but is potentially useful.

As with a lot of these, the “learning” aspect can be pitched in a number of different ways, and depends on how you introduce, facilitate and debrief the exercise.

Not sure of the name of this one.  It is based on the standard game of five-card poker.  You just need some standard packs of playing cards (no jokers).  I used four packs for a group of around 80 people – you can vary to suit.  You need to have at least one card per person – having more increases the randomness.  You also need a cardboard box to collect cards in (or more than one for a larger group).  It is also worth putting up an order of winning poker hands on a large notice or on a projector.  The game then runs as follows:

  • Participants are given one card each at random.  (No exchanging of cards!)
  • Play music.  While the music plays, all the participants form into groups of 5 people (self-selection), trying to form a group that will have a winning poker hand with the five cards together.  (Everyone is free to display their cards to other players as they choose.  You may be able to create some interesting variations on this!)  This continues until the music stops. (Five minutes.)
  • The group members are then instructed to introduce themselves to each other while the music plays again.  (No changes in groups now allowed.)  Tell them that they will each need to know all the names of the other four.  (You can extend this by adding more detail than just names.)  This continues until the music stops again. (Another five minutes.) 
  • The facilitator then determined the highest-scoring team by calling out each possible hand score from the lowest to the highest, asking teams to call out if they have that hand (one pair, two pairs, three of a kind, etc).  If two or more teams share the highest score (eg, full house), work out which has the highest cards.  (You will also need an order of suits in case two groups have the same denominations of cards.)
  • The highest-scoring team then must choose one person to introduce each team member to the whole assembly.  If they can do this successfully, each team member wins a prize.  If they fail, go to the next lowest scoring team, until one completes the introductions.
  • Collect all the cards in the box(es) and shuffle.
  • Repeat for further rounds as required.  (Each round will require about 15 minutes.)

The purpose?  It is a good ice-breaker, and people need to introduce themselves to one another, with a motivation to remember names (and other details if required).  It also demonstrates an element of “coopertition” – how many people should you show your card to in order to get a winning hand?  How high a hand can you get from the available people?  How long do you risk looking for higher hands as other teams “close”? 

For choosing which details to share in the introductions, you could address the topics of the conference – maybe ask people to share their definitions of “knowledge management”?



  1. Nick –

    Thanks for your comments. I first used this exercise more as an icebreaker – it’s interesting how many more parallels it has to KM than I first realised…

  2. What a clever and fun exercise!

    The decision process that determines how many people one should show their cards to and how much one should risk in looking for higher hands would be revealing for sure.

    How often do we see people keep information, which could be valuable to others, close to the chest? How often do we find that individuals need more and more (endless) information before making a decision, only to come to find that the opportunity has passed by? The connections in our world expand so quickly that clinging to data and information often forfeits us valuable advantages – there’s a lesson here somewhere.

    I really like this exercise for what it reveals about the potential differences in the decisions of those with winning and losing hands. Thanks for the post!


  3. Han –

    Thanks for the comment. I agree with your statement that learning should be enjoyable. The next question is what do we find enjoyable? This reflects the need to cater for different learning styles in our audience.

    A curious mind is a desirable thing. There is another blog post in the type of people that make good knowledge workers/managers – the recent discussion on actKM brought out a few interesting comments on this.

    – Keith.

  4. Hi, I think the intent of subject properly stated should be “Learning should be enjoyable”. It could be fun or it could be engaging. If it is enjoyable then people’s passion and emotions are engaged and they learn more and better. Learning should cater to our human nature, to wit:
    “I have a life long interest in curiosity.”

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